Wanda scanned the letter feverishly. Eventually, she would read it more carefully. No, that wasn’t quite right. Eventually, she would memorize the letter. But for now there was only one thing she wanted to know.
She found it on the bottom of the last page: “P.S. Please encourage Aunt Rachel Little.”
Oh, no, Wanda gasped as she carefully considered each word. She read the second sentence to confirm her greatest fears: “Her arthritis really broke out recently.”
Wanda’s heart sank, and not because she was concerned about Aunt Rachel Little.
As far as she knew, there was no Aunt Rachel Little, arthritic or otherwise. The P.S. message from her husband, Bud, was in code, worked out during their last weekend together before he shipped out as a U.S. Navy communications officer during World War II. They knew that for security reasons he wouldn’t be allowed to tell her where he was being sent. At least, not directly. But they came up with a code that would help him let her know.
It would be in a P.S. in the second letter he sent home. Using the first letter of each word (OK, so we’re NOT talking about Navajo code talkers here), Wanda spelled out his assignment: Pearl Harbor.
The father of her children was stationed at a base that had already been attacked once just a little more than a year earlier. It was only a sliver of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from the U.S. mainland. But it was the center of U.S. Naval operations; therefore, it was still a prime target. And Bud was there in the middle of it.
Bud had not volunteered for military service. He was a 31-year-old insurance-selling father of four at the time bombs rained on Hawaii that sleepy Sunday morning in late 1941. Although his patriotic fervor was stirred, he was sure he was too old, too fatherly and too useless to be of any help. He thought he was among those who were to “keep the home fires burning.”
But Uncle Sam thought otherwise. Within a few months of the attack on Pearl Harbor he received a draft notice from the Army. At first he thought it was a mistake. But when it became clear that the Army was prepared to use insurance salesmen as cannon fodder in Italy, France and Germany, he tried to find the best way that he could benefit the war effort. He stalled his Army induction long enough to enlist as one of the Navy’s “90-day wonders,” going in for three months of intense training that would muster him out as a lieutenant, junior grade.
Soon after saying a long and tearful goodbye to Wanda, Bud stood in line with other newly commissioned officers to receive his orders. There was nothing scientific about it, no matching of the man to the mission. There was simply a stack of orders on the table, and the men filed by and took the envelope on top.
To be honest, Bud was disappointed to be assigned to Pearl Harbor. He figured that as long as he was going to do this, he wanted to go where he would do some good, and he felt that an assignment to a fighting ship would give him that opportunity.
Wanda didn’t like the idea of him being on a ship, but she didn’t like the notion of Pearl Harbor, either. For more than two years she single-handedly cared for their children, worked to provide additional income for the family and prayed for the safety of her husband. Bud did his assigned duty, and he watched as ship after ship — many bearing his communications school colleagues — was lost at sea. By the end of the war, both Wanda and Bud — my parents — bore the personal and emotional wounds of war, as did countless others at home and abroad.
Today there is a whole new generation of Wandas and Buds — including my eldest daughter, AmyJo, and her husband, Brock, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan — taking their turn at serving, waiting and praying. I’ll be thinking of them all this Veteran’s Day — the Wandas and Buds of our past, present and future — with honor, respect and gratitude.
And not in secret code.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr